NBA odds: Where Celtics rank among title contenders as season returns

NBA odds: Where Celtics rank among title contenders as season returns

The 2020 NBA championship officially is up for grabs. Should the Boston Celtics be in the title conversation?

The NBA's Board of Governors approved a 22-team format Thursday to resume the 2019-20 season later this summer at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

The format, which calls for eight "seeding" games leading into a traditional 16-team playoff, guarantees the Celtics a playoff berth as the current No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

So, what are Boston's chances of winning it all? Caesars Sportsbook released updated NBA championship odds following Thursday's announcement and has the C's pegged at 15/1.

The Philadelphia 76ers come in after the Denver Nuggets at 25/1, per ESPN's David Purdum.

That's a favorable position for the Celtics, as only the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Clippers have shorter title odds. Westgate SuperBook listed Boston at 16/1 prior to the league's announcement, so the sportsbooks clearly view the C's as a top-5 title contender.

Why the optimism? Well, Boston had the NBA's fifth-best record at 43-21 when the league shut down on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The C's also should benefit from a healthy Kemba Walker, who missed eight of the team's most recent 15 games while battling knee soreness but will have had four full months to recover.

If Walker is at full strength and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can continue their career seasons, Boston should be a force to be reckoned with.

The Celtics' title odds could change based on their first-round opponent: They would currently match up in the first round with the No. 6 seed Sixers, who have beaten Boston in three of four meetings this season.

But considering the C's have stronger title odds than both Philly and the No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors, fans should feel confident about Brad Stevens' club entering the new playoff format.

Good news for Celtics: Kemba Walker 'ready to go' after 'needed' break

Good news for Celtics: Kemba Walker 'ready to go' after 'needed' break

Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kemba Walker admitted he “wasn’t really happy” with the way he was playing before the 2019-20 NBA season paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, but said after a “needed” break that allowed him to rest a bothersome knee, he’s eager to get back on the court with his teammates for the Orlando restart.

Walker declared himself, “ready to go,” after using the downtime to heal a knee that hindered him over the final six weeks of play.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

“[The break was] super important for me. I really, really needed to get that break,” said Walker. "It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee. It was a very unfortunate time but it was in my best interests for sure. So I’m pretty comfortable with the way the schedule is and I’m just going to keep on taking care of myself. That’s really all I can do, so I’m just going to stay on top of things and take it day by day.”

Walker earned his All-Star nod by averaging 22 points per game while shooting 38.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc through the end of January. A sore knee first forced him to sit out on January 18 but sidelined him for two longer stretches — and nine total games — in February. Walker averaged just 16.8 points while shooting 31.7 percent overall and 31.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc in his final eight games before the season paused.

Some of Walker’s struggles were masked by Jayson Tatum’s ascension. But the Celtics know they need a healthy Walker to reach their loftiest goals in Orlando.

"I’m definitely ready to try and expand my game to higher levels so we can just be a better team,” said Walker. "Especially the way I ended the season, I wasn’t really happy with the way I was playing. So I’m excited.”

Walker admitted he’s still trying to get back into game shape. But the downtime allowed him to really examine how he can best help the Celtics.

“I’m a lot more comfortable, especially realizing the change and everything that went down during the season, the ups and downs,” said Walker. "I’m definitely more comfortable with my teammates. We’ve been talking all quarantine. I got a chance to watch a lot of games over the quarantine, so, yeah, I think I’m more comfortable. I’m ready to go.

"We're pretty excited. I know everyone is just excited to see each other. From Day 1, honestly, with this team, our vibe and our chemistry was already there for a very long time. That first day anybody had seen anyone, it was like we were with each other yesterday, you know? It's that kind of team we have. We're just so close and we're just looking forward to going out there and just handling our business.”

Walker said he’s not particularly concerned about the recent COVID spike in Florida and believes the NBA will do everything to ensure player safety. As for worries about being stuck inside the bubble for a particularly lengthy stretch if the Celtics embark on a long playoff run, Walker dismissed that while noting, “All I do is stay in the house anyways, so there's nothing wrong with me staying in a [hotel] room.”

Added Walker: "I'm actually looking forward to it just because I'm ready to play basketball.”

2020 NBA restart: No Celtics have opted out of Orlando, Brad Stevens says

2020 NBA restart: No Celtics have opted out of Orlando, Brad Stevens says

The Boston Celtics plan on being fully operational in Orlando later this month.

None of Brad Stevens' players have informed him they won't play in the NBA's restarted 2019-20 season, the Celtics head coach confirmed Wednesday in a video conference with reporters.

Stevens also confirmed no Celtics players or staffers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the NBA began testing in early June.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Players still can opt out of the NBA "bubble" at any point before or during the eight-game "seeding" round, which for Boston begins July 31 with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. But July 1 was the NBA's imposed deadline for players to opt out to allow teams to sign replacement players, and it appears that deadline will pass with the Celtics' roster intact.

Several players from the other 21 bubble teams have decided not to play, including Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans, Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Brooklyn Nets big man DeAndre Jordan.

Many players have concerns about their personal health and the health of their families as they travel to Florida, which has seen a spike in positive COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks.

Yet those concerns aren't driving away any Celtics players, many of whom have been working out in Boston during the NBA's hiatus and appear on board with the league's restart plan.